In a State of the City address that was more like a network TV talk show than the traditionally stiff podium-delivered address, Salisbury Mayor Jake Day on Tuesday reviewed the city government’s continuing successes in transportation, public safety and infrastructure, while calling for improvements in housing and social cohesiveness.
The evening event at the new Revival theater in the Downtown City Center saw the mayor bring city department leaders onto the stage to converse about their achievements and challenges. The interview-style event was unprecedented in Salisbury’s governmental history.
The mayor also used the occasion to tell of his yearlong U.S. Army deployment to Africa and recall the welcome-home events of last spring.
The speech was broadcast live by PAC 14 and is available for viewing on the public access channel’s YouTube Page.
Following are excerpts of the mayor’s address:
It’s hard for me to believe that it has been two years since I last stood before you to deliver the State of the City. Almost. You may have heard that I spent a considerable amount of time away from home not too long ago.
Being deployed for almost a year has a way of making time feel elastic. There were moments that I found myself counting the days on a makeshift calendar, missing my girls and my city, imagining that feeling of being wheels-up in a C-130, feeling the tarmac slip away, and knowing that the next time my boots touched ground, I’d be home. Then, occasionally, I’d find myself hit by the realization that I was already a month, two months, 5 months in, wondering where the time had gone.
Any soldier will tell you that the anticipation of deployment brings with it a certain amount of anxiety — and my experience was no different. I’m not ashamed to tell you I shed a lot of tears for a day in my office where I wrote letters to my children and my parents, my wife, the citizens of Salisbury, and to our City Administrator in case I didn’t come home.
I filmed videos and saved them to thumb drives, put them in manila folders in my desk, and prayed no one would ever open or see them. Thankfully, no one ever will.
I’ll remember the weight of those emotions for the rest of my life.
Getting back to work was mostly about catching the rhythm again.So, there was some catching-up to do, so my very first appointments were with the Department Heads, the Fire Chief and the Chief of Police.
By itself, the pandemic represents a monumental challenge —but challenges have a way of compounding; each new one arriving on its own time, indifferent to the weight of the pile already beneath it. Covid doesn’t care about call volume, and it doesn’t care about your overtime budget. Crime still happens. Car accidents still happen. House fires still happen.
But keeping ourselves on track, maintaining the pace we’ve established, means seeing the forest as well as the trees. It means keeping the larger picture in focus through the blur of calamity.
One of my favorite things to do as Mayor is to tell our citizens that the city is safer this year than last year.
Thanks to Police Chief Barbara Duncan’s leadership and the outstanding work of the SPD, I’m able to do that pretty often.
SPD has done a significant amount of community outreach over the years, and that has taken a number of forms — everything from our Police Athletics League, to neighborhood walks, National Night Out, and our Citizens’ Police Academy. I don’t think it’s possible to overstate the positive impact of these efforts on improving relations and engendering trust within the community.
Another way that we’re making positive connections is with our Criminal Justice Reform Task Force. Over the summer, we held a listening session where we invited members of the community to share their concerns and suggestions with the task force, and there was a lot of very positive dialog that came out of that.
The city has 91 active infrastructure projects under way — more than we’ve ever had going at one time.
With so much in the pipeline, you can expect the steady rhythm of maintenance and upgrades that we’ve established to continue, and pick up even more steam in the coming year, and beyond.
The fact that we have not only kept pace, but hastened our progress in the face of Covid-related challenges is testament to the strength and resilience of our city, the efficacy and efficiency of our municipal government, and the impeccable work of our Infrastructure and Development team under the leadership of Amanda Pollack.
The past 12 months have seen the completion of some of the most ambitious and transformative infrastructure work in the city’s history.
Let’s start with the big stuff: I think the overhaul of Main Street will be viewed by future generations as the defining public works project of this era, in much the same way that we view construction of the Plaza, or the original Riverwalk.
All told, the project came in at around $12.5 million. Much of that money came from our municipal budget, but we also received funding from a number of other sources.
There was one project in particular that I wanted to mention as near and dear to my heart, if perhaps a little under-noticed, and that’s the Port of Salisbury phase of the Riverwalk. There was so much going on all around it — the roundabout, Main Street, the Bark Park — I think it got a little lost in the shuffle, but it is the puzzle piece that connects the Riverwalk from the Marina District to Downtown Salisbury, and it’s beautiful.
Our infrastructure investments take many forms — some easier to see than others — and every dollar spent in, on, or above ground represents a payment toward our shared prosperity.
Beyond necessary upkeep and maintenance, and beyond the betterment of life for our citizens through the expansion of recreational opportunities, increased mobility options, smoother streets, cleaner water.
Beyond their face value, inherently, every one of these projects — no matter the type or scope — enhances our ability to attract families and businesses looking for a place to call home.
By staying focused, maintaining our rhythm, and thinking creatively and holistically in our Covid response, Salisbury did the work to keep its economic engine strong over the past 18 months, ensuring that we would have the best chance to find ourselves on favorable footing in this moment.
In case you’re wondering what that looked like: $125 million in construction in the city since the first Covid case.
And to ensure our most ambitious and transformative projects would come to fruition, we created the Hotel or Residential Zone tax incentive, or HORIZON. Aimed at accelerating the construction or expansion of hotel or multifamily residential development in our central business district, HORIZON offers a stepped real property tax credit that matches the existing benefit provided to commercial projects.
This is a program that required the review and passage of the Maryland General Assembly, Wicomico County Council, and the City Council — a significant effort that proved immediately worthwhile, kickstarting projects that had been temporarily waylaid by the pandemic.
And what do you know? It worked. Today, for the first time since I was born, concrete is being poured in a new private building in our Downtown. There are piles being driven into the dirt at Main and Baptist. The two tallest buildings in our city are under construction right now.
Look no further than the upper floors of buildings up and down Main Street. The old White & Leonard, the old Season’s Best, the Patrick Hannon building. All new apartments under construction. Or how about the old Vernon Powell building? Filled with professionals.
More housing can’t come soon enough. One of the most alarming challenges of the past year is the increasingly severe and multifaceted nationwide housing crisis. With both demand and supply at historic extremes, the median home price has skyrocketed in every market from coast to coast.
Harvard researchers found that nearly half of all renters are cost burdened, and there is not a single state, metropolitan area, or county in the U.S. where a worker earning minimum wage can afford an average rent on 40 hours a week. Compounding matters, the expiration of Covid-era eviction moratoriums put in place by the federal government.
Salisbury is no more immune to these troubles than any other city or town in America. In fact, as the epicenter of population growth on the Eastern Shore from 2010 to today as reported by the 2020 census, the impact of the housing crisis has been felt perhaps even more acutely in our community than it has in many others.
As our national profile continues to rise; as employers in Salisbury continue to add jobs at a time where other markets are watching them evaporate; as more and more people discover our beautiful city and decide to call it home … waiting around for a market correction is simply not an option.
As our citizens face a looming eviction crisis; as a person working two or three jobs searches the listings on website after website, hoping to find an affordable home; as a fellow Salisburian spends another night in the cold… Inaction is simply not an option.
Last month, Salisbury moved decisively to meet these challenges head-on with our Here is Home Program.
To increase the supply of available housing stock in Salisbury, Here is Home incentivizes new construction by waiving all construction fees. That means that as long as they stay on schedule, and are occupied no more than two years from the date of application, qualifying developments will pay exactly zero dollars in building permit fees, water/sewer connection fees, or annexation fees.
To increase the amount of affordable housing in Salisbury, Here is Home offers a payment in lieu of taxes for affordable housing, and a tax break to the houses owned by organizations like Salisbury Neighborhood Housing Services and Habitat for Humanity. This will make the difference between affordable units being built or not in our city.
To better assist our homeless population, Here is Home aims to expand housing options by identifying progressive solutions, and seeking out and fostering new partnerships with community organizations, healthcare providers, and advocacy groups.
And to provide the best possible chance at leaving homelessness behind, the Here is Home program includes the construction of a tiny home village, with showers, bathrooms, mail, and storage facilities.
This is a first-of-its-kind program on the Eastern Shore, and it’s the most ambitious step to date in our efforts to end homelessness in Salisbury.
Positioned for growth
We might be the city where all of the population growth on Maryland’s Eastern Shore from 2010 to 2020 occurred. Our housing stock may have skyrocketed in value overnight. We may be the No. 1 city people from the Washington and Baltimore Metropolitan Areas are moving to. But if we aren’t also the city that wraps a blanket around a shivering man, how proud can we be?
It is in that spirit that we looked hard into the mirror in 2015 and decided on a new approach to supporting our younger residents. By 2017, the city purchased 306 Newton St. – a large, unoccupied structure — formerly a single-family home — that had become a consistent attractive nuisance in the North Camden neighborhood.
Over the next few years, we undertook the steady work of rehabbing the structure, preparing it for its new life as a safe and welcoming place for kids to study, play, get a meal, learn an instrument, and just be together. This past June we officially opened the doors to the Newton Street Community Center.
Once a liability to the neighborhood where it stands, the house at the corner of Newton and Light streets breathes with new life, full of opportunity for the next generation of Salisburians.
Those Salisburians will mature in a Salisbury that is adding jobs in defense and communications manufacturing, in shipbuilding, in medicine, in life sciences.
Our workforce is at its largest in history and we continue to be short workers. At each of the Opportunity Project events, the theme has been that people want to move here.
This moment is our still point of clarity in a moving world. Tonight, as we take inventory of our achievements over the past year, we do so in the somber knowledge that in less than two years, three-quarters of a million Americans have lost their lives to an invisible enemy.
And, even though the light human ingenuity brought us with a vaccine that has proven to be safe and effective, the rancorous politicization of even the simplest public health actions continues to put Americans at risk of infection and death.
It’s a moment that demands action, because we’re the ones who made it possible. Right now, across the country, countless cities and towns find themselves worse off than they were before the pandemic.
The fact that we are uniquely positioned to thrive at a time like this is due in no small part to the momentum generated over a decade of rebirth and renewed community spirit.
We owe it to ourselves to make the most of this extraordinary advantage — to capitalize on the opportunity we created.
That’s not to say that we’ve reached a point of criticality. Our progress is still very much dependent upon our own effort, and it always will be.
So, while we can and should celebrate our victories, we cannot allow ourselves to become complacent in them.
Recognizing that we are the masters of our own fate, and that the sweat we put in is directly proportional to the future we know we can create for ourselves, now is the moment for us to redouble our commitment to making Salisbury safer, more vibrant, more walkable, more bikeable, more beautiful, more cultural, and more prosperous than she has ever been before.
Friends, tonight is an inkwell moment. The next page in Salisbury’s long history begins here. As the pen strokes of our actions become the narrative of our time, it is imperative for us to recognize that the page we write is just one of untold pages to come.
If our goal is the betterment of this city, then our mission can have no true end state, because we can always be safer; we can always find ways to improve the efficiency and functionality of our municipal government; we can always work to improve the prosperity and quality of life of our citizens.
In this moment, as we stand on the rise of the road — one Salisbury, welcoming all, in the spirit of kindness and human dignity.
Tonight we reaffirm our solemn promise to do whatever it takes to eliminate injustice, and to knock down any barrier that would keep us divided.
Tonight we say again, loudly and proudly, that every step in our march toward progress will be taken in unison, with nothing less than absolute indifference to the characteristics that others use to divide: race, gender, religion.
We are one Salisbury. A shining light in Maryland and America; a beacon that says: follow me.
Follow me — on a path that we have lit. Follow me on a path that should be tread by every American who loves his neighbor; by every town that wants to shed the shackles of division.
Shine on, Salisbury. And the world will follow.